Saturday, April 28, 2007

A pox on both their houses.

Both United and American airlines, to put it bluntly, suck.

United got me as far as Chicago O'Hare, that fabled site of travel disasters. The flight was eight hours and neither the food nor drink were free, but that's the state of modern air travel. [Side bitch: Planes are now so understaffed that the flight attendants are no longer supposed to attend to your needs. I got chewed out by a stewardess for hitting my call button for the trivial reason that I needed water but didn't want to wake the girl in the aisle seat.] It was 5:15am and I was exhausted, after several days of packing and moving all my belongings into storage (thanks to everyone who helped!), so I crashed out on a chair. [Side bitch 2: Why can't airports provide seating without armrests, so that it's possible to lie down? I don't think this simple comfort would cause people to rush off for a romantic weekend at the airport.] I woke up, stiff and slightly crooked, an hour before my 8:20 flight, only to find that it had been canceled. Why? I called United to find out.

The United voice recognition system was baffled by the ambient sound of the airport ("I think you said you wanted to reroute your flight to Abu Dhabi. Is that correct?"), but after hollering "AGENT!!" several times into the phone, I got it to connect me to a human. [Side bitch 3: Everyone has relocated their call centers to India, and I'm OK with that. But why do the agents have super-haole names, such as, in this case, "Spencer Roy"? Is there a rash of Indian parents giving their kids mock-Hollywood monikers, or does United give them special company IDs, in the hopes that customers will be soothed into complacency by being able to pronounce the name of the person who is pissing them off?]

'Spencer' explained that the problem was weather in Ottawa (it wasn't: when I finally arrived in Ottawa, it was fine, and the staff there said it had been fine all day), and that I was booked on a flight at 6:40pm that evening, almost twelve hours later. I insisted I needed an earlier flight (I was supposed to be helping with the last-minute shopping and packing before heading up north early the following morning). 'Spencer' said they could book me on an American Airlines flight. There was one at 9:10am, but it was full, so it would have to be the 2:30pm flight.

Wait a sec. The weather is OK for American planes, but not for United?? How'd that happen? And now that I think of it, they canceled the flight a full hour before its scheduled departure - how did they know the weather wouldn't improve? 'Spencer' guessed that United might have wimpier planes, but didn't know.

So, I got on the American flight. My bags, however, did not. Those would be the bags containing all the clothing and gear to keep me alive and sane in the Arctic for four months. We left for Resolute in the morning.

Over the next two days, there were many, many phone calls to American and United. Some highlights:

- "No, we have no way of knowing where your bags are until they turn up in Ottawa." Don't you have computer tracking, like FedEx? "No." What are the bar codes on the tags for, then? "So that the computers know which conveyor belt to put the bags on." Well, can you find out which conveyor belt the bag was on most recently? "No, the computers aren't connected."
- "You're in Resolute? Well, maybe you could just drive to Ottawa and see if your bags are there." (Distance: Over 2000 miles)
- "I'll just message the staff there, and they will get back to me soon, so please call back in an hour or so." This is the third time I've been told this - do you know if the staff there ever read their messages? "They're much too busy to read messages."
- "I'll just call the staff there." No answer. "I'm sure they'll be back soon." What number did you call? "I'm sorry, we can't give that number to customers." Perhaps you're calling the same number I have called ten times over the last two days (613-248-2000 ext 1508) without getting any answer, ever? "Er, yes, that's the same number."

Long story long, my bags are still missing, location unknown, although United "thinks" they probably arrived in Ottawa late Thursday night - which would have been nice to know then, since I could have picked them up before flying out on Friday morning, but at the time they were still insisting that the bags were in Chicago.

So, I'm in Resolute, it's -20C, and I have no winter clothes, boots, gloves etc., not to mention all the carefully packed books, DVDs, food and so on. We leave for the hab on Monday morning. Did I mention that we'll be there for FOUR MONTHS??

Split awards for worst service ever: United and American. Pfft.


Aaron said...

Oh my. That's brutal. Pretty inexcusable in this day and age with all kinds of tracking available. :( Soooo sorry to hear it Kim.

I'm crossing fingers, toes AND EYES that your bags will make it.

- aaron

Emily said...

Oohh, man, that sucks. That's why I fly Delta. It's a little more expensive, but they still have a drink/snack service on short flights, and on longer ones, you get a little snack pack with various stuff, including cheese (if you're really lucky, the smoked gouda is AMAZING). I haven't had many problems with them canceling flights, and they're amazing about lost luggage. And their flight attendants are nice. And will actually help you.

Kim Binsted said...

The phone that is never answered, was answered! Not only that, but the woman who picked up the phone used the kind of first person active sentences I've been longing to hear: "*I* have your bags", "*I* am putting them on a plane to Resolute in the morning" and "I know where Resolute is."

Fingers crossed...

Anonymous said...

Watching your progress from Vancouver BC. Best of luck getting your luggage soon! (I bet the airline people are indeed calling you Mars Ho! hahahaha)

Kristin Van Bodegraven said...

A bit after the fact, but...

last time I flew United they lost my bags. After 5 days, about 35 phone calls, and many, many Indian people named Sally later, they informed me that my bags had been delivered to my home address. In Los Angeles. This was in January.